Start of the Year: Expectations & Tips

The start of the year is intimidating. Whether you are a first year teacher or a tenth year teacher, there is a lot of pressure on those first few weeks of the school year. You want to clarify your expectations. You want to be firm but fun. You want to outline your rules but not be boring. This is tricky in any classroom but in a room full of students who have a wide range of needs – low receptive language, nonverbal, extreme behaviors, trouble with changes, etc. etc. etc. – saying it’s a challenge may just be an understatement.

Don’t get overwhelmed. Use the same strategies and interventions that work in the rest of your classroom to show explain your class rules. Use visuals. Use consistent and immediate feedback. Identify what you want to see. Teach each step. And make it easy to be good!

Use Visuals: Even if your students have verbal abilities, visuals are essential for clarifying expectations. Some of our students are tricky – even though they have high expressive language, they may not have high receptive language (ie. they may be able to talk a lot but may not be able to understand everything you are saying to them). Visuals are also imperative for your nonverbal students. Use a method they can understand when explaining something as important as class rules. I love visual classroom rules like this one:

The Autism Helper - Class Rules

This is part of my Ultimate Pack of Behavior Management Visuals (it’s been recently updated!).

I like these rules because it defined “good behavior” and “bad behavior.” Many of our kids don’t know what these terms mean. How often do you think our kids hear “be good!? Maybe they don’t know what “good” means. Helps define these commonly used phrases in a concrete way.

Can I state rules in the negative? I don’t think there needs to be hard and fast “no negative” rules rule. Sometimes you need to say what not to do in order to be concrete but that also needs to be paired with what to do (the positive rule).

Use Consistent and Immediate Feedback: Let’s get back to those good ole’ principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. Manipulate the consequences in your classroom. I don’t mean consequences in the old school your mom yelling at your 16 year old self as your drive away in her car past curfew “There will be consequences for this.”  I mean consequences as what happens after the behavior. What behavior you ask? Any and all. You see something good; provide a consequence. Provide praise, an edible, a token. Use what is reinforcing to that student not what should be reinforcing to that student. Praise is not a reinforcer for all kids. That’s okay.  You see something bad; provide a punishing consequence. Check out these posts for attention behaviors and escape behaviors for intervention ideas.

Identify What you Want to See: Your students need to see a concrete representation of the appropriate behavior you want to see. Whether that’s you modeling the response, you identifying when the student is engaging in the good behaviors, or you facilitating role playing exercises with your students. No matter how you do it – make sure your students can see exactly what the behavior looks like.

Teach Each Step: Maybe your students are not able to engage in the response you are looking for. You need to break down the response into little baby steps and then scale way back. Teach each step until each one is mastered. For example – if you want your student to enter the room and take off their coat and turn in their homework; try teaching each piece of this behavior chain. First teach the student how to enter the room correctly. Once they can do that on their own and correctly, teach hanging up their coat. Then finally teach turning in the homework. This may be a long process but it will be more successful in the end than trying to tackle that whole task at once.


Make it Easy: Keep in mind that more important than what your visual rules look like needs to be your schedule of reinforcement. You can have the most clearly defined visual rules or best social story ever – but that alone will accomplish nothing. You need to make sure that whatever is reinforcing the ‘bad’ behavior (attention, escape from work) is eliminated or lessened (because we can’t always eliminate it) and the good behavior that you want him to be doing results in consistent and high magnitude reinforcement. The reinforcement should be the same type that the bad behavior resulted in. Ie. if the student is taking his clothes off to get attention from teachers on the bus – him saying hi or handing a visual over should also result in teacher attention. And the attention given when he does the appropriate behavior should be way better (more frequent and high magnitude) than the inappropriate response. So even though yes – you will have to give attention to make sure he puts his clothes back on – you can at least minimize the quality of that attention (no eye contact, no verbal reprimands, etc.) Basically – you want to make the appropriate response easier for the student to get the reinforcer he wants over the inappropriate response! Which behavior would you rather do? The easy one that gets you a lot of what you want or the hard one that doesn’t? I thought so…

The Autism Helper

And I thought you all would love this little gem …




  1. Have a wonderful year, Sasha! Last year, I remembered leaving comments and questions for you as a first year teacher. A year went by so fast. It was challenging but I loved every minute of it (well not every minute but majority of the time lol….) The amount of growth and progress my students have made by the end of the year was totally worth it. I was credentialed for being a gen ed and resource teacher; however got hired as an autism teacher. Therefore, last summer, I felt like I found a treasure when I tumbled upon your blog. I read and reread several of your posts to learn how to set up, organize my classroom and many other “how to…” things. I’ m super overwhelmed right now as school starts on Monday. However, I have to leave you a message that I want to say thank you for spending time making and sharing with us all these wonderful resources.

  2. It is hard some times to not over react to bad behavior. Thank you for the refresher.:)

  3. Thanks so much for these tips! As always, I am grateful for your posts, especially at the start of a new year!

  4. So helpful! thank you!

  5. Thanks for reminding me to consciously reduce reinforcement on negative behaviours:)

  6. Such a sweet message! Thank you so much Sophia! This really made my day. Have a great school year 🙂

  7. Thanks for reading! 🙂


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